The State of Iowa’s policy is to keep most criminal records public. The criminal court docket is online for anyone to see most adult criminal records in Iowa for no cost. This means that a future employer, landlord, spouse, or neighbor can see any adult’s Iowa criminal record.
Crimes That Can Be Expunged
Most criminal records cannot be removed from a person’s Iowa criminal history. However, Iowa law provides that certain records can be expunged if qualifications are met. If they are met, the court can enter an order expunging the record of the case. To get an order expunging the record, a person typically will have to file a written paper in the court case to ask for an order expunging the record. However, some are automatically expunged. If it is expunged, this means that these records will no longer be accessible to the general public. However, it does not mean that a record of the case will cease to exist completely. It may remain on a special list available to the court, prosecutors and law enforcement.
- Deferred Judgments (Iowa Code Section § 907.9)
When a person pleads guilty to an offense, a court will, in certain circumstances, allow the person a deferred judgment. Upon completion of probation and payment of all costs associated with the case, the court’s record of the case shall be expunged. Iowa Code § 907.9. If the court revokes the deferred judgment, it will not be eligible for expungement under chapter 907 (but may be eligible under § 901C.3). Individuals with a completed deferred judgment before July 1, 2013 will have to apply for expungement. Any completed deferred judgment after July 1, 2013 should be automatically expunged. However, if the individual lives in a rural county were probation is often unsupervised, the individual may need to file a motion and proposed order to get their record expunged once they complete their probation and pay all costs. When expunged, the record will automatically be put on a private list. This list can only be seen by Courts, court staff, the department of corrections, county attorney’s office, and law enforcement. It is important to note that an individual with an expunged deferred judgement can waive its confidentiality. For example, some job applications ask potential employees for permission to run Department of Correction checks (DCI checks) and if permission is given, the Department of Corrections will disclose the deferred judgment case to the employer.
- Dismissals/Acquittals (Iowa Code Section § 901C.2)
In cases resulting in either a dismissal or acquittal, the court can enter an order expunging the record of the case if the following conditions are met:
- All court costs and other financial obligations ordered by the court in that case have been paid.
- A minimum of 180 days has passed since the acquittal or dismissal (the court may waive this requirement if it finds good cause, such as identity theft or mistaken identity).
- The case was not dismissed due the defendant being found not guilty by reason of insanity.
- The defendant was not found to be incompetent to stand trial.
- The charges were public offenses
This expungement requires that ALL counts in the case be dismissed/acquitted. For example, if an individual has one case with multiple counts and all but one count was dismissed, the case is not eligible for expungement. The charge must also be a “public offense” to qualify. Essentially, this excludes dismissed/acquitted nonindictable traffic scheduled violations and anything charged under local traffic ordinances. For a dismissed traffic related case to qualify, it would need to be an indictable offense-- at least a misdemeanor or higher. In addition, this expungement cover cases with “not filed” or “withdrawn” adjudication statuses as well.
- Public Intoxication, Possession of Alcohol under the Legal Age Conviction, Juvenile Prostitution Conviction (Iowa Code Sections §§ 123.46(6), 123.47(8), 725.1)
These three convictions are eligible for expungement if the individual receives no other criminal convictions, other than local traffic offenses or simple misdemeanor traffic offenses during the two-year period following the conviction. The conviction will be expunged after an individual applies to the court. Unlike other forms of expungement, these statutes do not require an individual to pay all fines and fees.
- Adult cases transferred to Juvenile Court (Iowa Code §§ 232.8(2), 803.6)
Sometimes, a prosecutor will bring charges against a minor child in district court or will bring the charges in juvenile court but have them transferred to district court. Often, the defense attorney in those cases will ask for the case to be sent back to juvenile court, perhaps because of the mental capacity of the child or some other factor. An individual who had their adult case transferred to juvenile court before 2018 can apply to have the adult case sealed. Adult cases transferred after 2018 should be automatically sealed.
- Certain Misdemeanor Convictions (Iowa Code Section §901C.3)
Enacted in 2019 as part of a broader criminal law reform package, Iowa Code § 901C.3 provides for the expungement of one misdemeanor conviction in a person’s lifetime. This law marks the first time a person can expunge an adult conviction in Iowa, other than for public intoxication or possession of alcohol under the legal age. In addition to the once-in-a-lifetime restriction, the law has other limitations:
- More than eight years must have passed since the conviction;
- The person cannot have any pending criminal charges;
- The person cannot previously have been granted two deferred judgments;
- All costs and fees ordered by the court or imposed by the clerk must be paid; and
- Certain categories of misdemeanors cannot be expunged.
Although expungement under this law is limited to once in a person’s lifetime, that restriction does not apply to other types of expungement. For example, a person who had already expunged two public intoxication convictions and two dismissed cases could still use section 901C.3 to expunge an assault conviction. Additionally, the once-in-a-lifetime requirement does not prevent a person from expunging multiple convictions if and only if the offenses “arose from the same transaction or occurrence, and the application contains the misdemeanor offenses to be expunged.” Iowa Code § 901C.3(3).
Roughly 25 types of misdemeanors cannot be expunged under this law. The once-in-a-lifetime restriction on the misdemeanor conviction expungement law presents a strategic challenge to people seeking expungement when they have multiple convictions to consider. An assault conviction may present barriers to housing, while a crime of dishonesty or a controlled substance violation may present barriers to employment. Because of this strategic component and some practical difficulties with the law, Iowa Legal Aid does not recommend that individuals apply for these expungements without the assistance of a lawyer.
A person convicted of a crime can ask the Governor’s office to pardon the crime. The Governor’s office website has an application form that allows a person to ask for a pardon. Not many pardons are granted.
If the Governor issued a pardon, that pardon does not remove the record of that crime. The only effect of a pardon is a note on the online court docket that shows a pardon was granted. The criminal record will remain on the online court docket.
Effect of Criminal Records
Even if your case has been expunged, a record still exists. It should not be seen by the public, but it does not get erased. The record will be on a special list available to courts, prosecutors, and law enforcement. If a person gets a new criminal charge, everyone involved in the criminal case would know about the expunged criminal record. If a person commits a new crime, the expunged record can cause:
- A higher level of crime to be charged,
- A higher level of supervision during and after trial,
- A tougher sentence after conviction.
Having a criminal record makes life very difficult. It can be hard to find an apartment, get a job, get a loan, and go to college. These decisions should not be based only on a person’s criminal record. State and federal rules tell employers and landlords that they must look at many factors when renting or hiring. But sometimes people don’t follow the rules.
If you have been denied a lease by a landlord, a job, or admission into a college based only on your criminal record, find out what went into the decision. Get that in writing if possible. In some cases, a denial for the criminal record alone could be discrimination.
Iowa Legal Aid provides help to low-income Iowans.
To apply for help from Iowa Legal Aid:
- Call 800-532-1275.
- Iowans age 60 and over, call 800-992-8161.
- Apply online at iowalegalaid.org
If Iowa Legal Aid cannot help, look for an attorney on “Find A Lawyer” on the Iowa State Bar Association website iowabar.org. A private attorney there can talk with you for a fee of $25 for 30 minutes of legal advice.
As you read this information, remember this article is not a substitute for legal advice.